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October 15, 2018
After I landed in Hanoi and checked out the city for a few days and looked at a few Fair Trade handicraft businesses, I went up to the north of Vietnam, to Sapa.
From the moment I started researching where I wanted to go I knew that Sapa would be an amazing place for me to start. And it was. Sapa is a tiny town in Northern Vietnam surrounded by hill tribes that have been practicing their traditional crafts for centuries. The landscape around Sapa is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen and the locals are welcoming and friendly.
Sapa is famous for its beautiful hemp fabrics and for indigo dying. A fabric dying technique they have been perfecting for centuries is the wax resist technique, Batik. I was super excited to learn more about this technique.
On my first day in Sapa I went into a small shop called Hemp and Embroidery in town that I heard was teaching Batik classes. I met the amazing owner Lan, the first and still only Hmong woman to own a shop in town. Most of the other shops unfortunately are owned by Chinese and a lot of them sadly sell fake, Chinese made handicrafts. Lan fascinated me from the moment I walked in the shop. She is in her early twenties running the shop by herself since she was 18, raising three little kids and providing for her husband and parents in law. She takes old Hmong clothing such as the traditional skirts and recycles them into fabrics, Accessories and new clothing. She works with Hmong women in the villages around and gives them work so they can provide for their families. Her Aunt is a master of Batik and Lan said she could teach me. I did a class the next day and it was absolutely amazing. It took me all day to make two small pieces of Batik fabrics. I loved every minute.
After spending a few days with Lan and getting to know her and her business a little bit, I decided that I would like to try and work with her in the future by using her batik hemp fabrics. At the moment they can’t make enough of the fabrics for me to start my business with but I am hopeful that sometime in the future we can work on a project together.
After travelling through Vietnam from North to South I didn’t have much luck with meeting people along the way. After more research I was certain that I would have more luck in Cambodia, so I quickly made my way over to Phnom Penh. And I was right!
Phnom Penh is full of amazing Fair Trade organisations and there is a great network where everyone seems to know each other and helps each other out. I met up with a few people that I had reached out to before the trip who then connected me with more people. I had so much fun meeting all these amazing people and learning about their work. Many of them work with disabled people and disadvantaged people doing a great job integrating them back into society. It was overwhelming and quite surprising for me how many and mostly women run social enterprises there were.
Many of them also work with deadstock fabric which is where I first came in contact with that term and it didn’t let me go. A few people took me around the markets to show me all the deadstock fabrics that were sold here coming from the big factories on the outskirts of the city. It was overwhelming how much there was! From that point I was determined to use deadstock fabrics in my collections as well.
One of the first people I met in Phnom Penh was Vantha Ngorn from Color Silk Cambodia. She is a very fascinating woman from the Takeo Province two hours south of Phnom Penh. She set up a weaving centre a few years ago down there to train women in rural areas like her own village to become financially independent without having to leave the village and therefore their families. She showed me all the amazing handwoven fabrics they did from silk but also from organic cotton which immediately spiked my interest. I had hoped to find someone working with organic cotton here. It is very rare to find that in Cambodia as not much cotton is grown here and is mostly brought in as threads from China or India. When I heard they were growing organic cotton and weaving with it and even using natural dyes to dye the threads all in the same village I was super excited. I had to go and see this place! The next weekend Vantha took me down to her village Sra in Takeo Province so I could see the weaving centre and meet the weavers.
I had a wonderful weekend visiting a few weavers around the villages in their homes and meeting the people in the weaving centre that were training to become weavers. I saw how they spin the cotton into thread, how they dye the skeins with all natural herbs and plants and how they set up the looms for the actual weaving process. It was an amazing experience and it was great to see how happy these women were preserving their traditions and making a living from it.
I was sure after that weekend that I wanted to work with Color Silk and get them to weave some organic cotton fabrics for my first collection. Back In Phnom Penh I met up with a small manufacturer that I had heard of and other people had pointed me to, Fairsew. Fairsew is a small manufacturing studio in the heart of Phnom Penh that treats its employees fairly by providing them with a living wage, educational training, a safe working environment and an overall happy workplace. They are also giving staff opportunities for further learning and development, Maternity Leave and Medical Insurance and they get as many paid holidays as Australia - these things may sound small, but they are unheard of in most factories in Cambodia. The majority of their team are women (power!). I had a very good feeling with them right from the start and I could quickly tell we were on the same page when it comes to ethical fashion. I met their small team of sewers and cutters and they were all very happy and excited to work with me. The quality of the garments they were sewing was outstanding.
After the meeting with them I knew I had found the manufacturer I had been looking for and was super excited to start working with them. Yay! Another plus was that Color Silk and Fairsew had been working with each other in the past and it would be easy to work with both of them together and build a beautiful collection around it. The next day one of Fairsew’s talented ladies, the amazing Sreythe, took me around the markets to find some deadstock fabrics for me to use in the first collection. She is a wizard with deadstock fabrics and knows where to find the goodies. We found 4 rolls of beautiful fabrics, Cotton and Rayon with flower prints on it, that I wanted to use. I had a vision to combine them with the handwoven organic cotton fabrics from Color Silk.
Now that I had all my manufacturing and fabric sourcing in place I only needed to get on with designing the actual collection :)! To get away from all the noise of the city and find the space to design my collection I went to the place that never let me down for inspiration, my happy place, the beach! I spend a week on the southern islands of Cambodia and got inspired straight away by the beautiful beaches and turquoise sea. Sipping coconuts on the beach while doing what you love, designing, was definitely exactly what I needed to come up with beautiful designs.
I went back to Phnom Penh for a week and talked Fairsew through my designs and we were ready to hit go on the pattern making and sample making process as soon as I would send them the proper techpacks. So while I was travelling a bit more around the country I worked on my techpacks and specs so they could start the process soon. My plan was to have the production ready by the time summer arrives back home in Australia, in October/November. Since it was already end of March I had to hurry up to stick with the schedule. I had also given Color Silk the designs for two striped fabrics I wanted them to weave to use in the collection.
After handing over my techpacks I went on to travel through Laos and Northern Thailand while Fairsew was working on my patterns and Color Silk was working on my fabrics. I met a few people here and there that I could potentially set up projects with in the future. I did an amazing natural dying class in Luang Prabang and I learned more about hemp making in the North of Thailand and Laos. Hopefully in the future I can work with more people in those regions and also integrate some hemp into my collections.
October 12, 2018
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